Transcript: Kim Baird podcast interview posted 11 March 2022

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Here is a condensed transcript of the Kim Baird podcast of March 11, 2022. It has been edited to remove verbal stumbles, repetitions, and the usual so-called fillers: “ums, ahs, and ers” and the like.

Host Stewart Muir:

Welcome to the Leadership Success podcast, voices and views about British Columbia First Nations’ opportunities in the global era. It’s brought to you by the First Nations LNG Alliance, and I’m your host Stewart Muir. Today, our guest is Kim Baird. Kim is an advisor to the First Nations LNG Alliance. She’s also former chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation. It’s during her time leading that First Nation from 1999 to 2012 that she negotiated the historic treaty between the Tsawwassen First Nation and the federal and provincial governments, quite an accomplishment. Also, Kim Baird is currently the Chancellor of Kwantlen University in Metro Vancouver. Kim, welcome to the podcast.

Kim Baird:

Thank you. Happy to be here

Stewart

I’m so glad you could come on, because there’s so much to talk about. Let’s start with reconciliation, economic reconciliation, especially. Where do you think Canada is, in terms of its success on being on the road to reconciliation? Is that happening?

Kim

That’s a complex question, because there’s not consensus on what the pathway is and what the measures are. I recently wrote a piece in Business in Vancouver around this. It’s pretty easy to beat up on all players. But it’s harder to determine what success actually looks like. And I think it ties into the other aspects of reconciliation. I think that First Nations in particular, are concerned about their legal and political rights along with economic reconciliation. I think it’s all a piece of the broader puzzle that needs to occur. And some First Nations are advancing quite well, with whatever they’ve determined to be their paths through self-determination, and others haven’t. And there are a lot of barriers for success, nationally. So sorry for my non-answer, but I think progress is being made. But again, like how you measure it is up for debate as well.

Stewart

just thinking back to your own experience with the treaty that you negotiated for the Tsawwassen. What do you think was the biggest barrier to getting to that final signature where everyone said, ‘Okay, this is done’?

Kim

There’s a lot that took place for us to be able to make that decision as a community and the model isn’t for everyone. For us, we decided that we wanted to leave behind the Indian Act and move with a toolbox that respected our autonomy. So the treaty provides us with an amazing toolkit, and we’ve done very well, since then, from all the economic development. So I would say that a lot of factors were in place that helped us reach that goal. One was a strong community vision, an informed kind of vision, about where we want to head as a community and how we want to develop our governance structures. And I call that stuff our ‘internal reconciliation.’ And then having capacity to be able to participate in the negotiations and get ready for the implementation of the treaty was an important aspect to leadership continuity. I was lucky to be chief for 13 years, which provided me the time to get the job done. I think these were all contributing factors to our ability to get to the point we’re at now.

Stewart

Now, with the First Nations LNG Alliance, you’re dealing with a lot of smaller, almost all or all rural, First Nations. By contrast, Tsawwassen First Nation is in Metro Vancouver, it’s an area of thriving industry. The nation in recent years has gotten into property development, doing some pretty amazing big-vision things. What are some of the contrasts? I mean, obviously, there are obvious contrasts between the nations inside the FNLGA. Are there any others? And how do you differentiate between having the issue, say the internal reconciliation process for a nation like that, versus ones that have got different issues of scale?

Kim

Tsawwassen’s a 500-person population. People think we’re bigger than we are. We are quite small. So I think there’s a lot to unpack with your question, but for sure, we are grateful for the opportunities we know we have in the Lower Mainland. We know that’s not the case for more rural or remote communities. And I guess, for those more rural and remote communities, their opportunities are resource-based there. Forestry and mining and sometimes pipeline opportunities are important to communities who have very, very limited opportunities. And have the same kind of conditions First Nations across the country suffer from, poverty, under-employment or unemployment, poor housing, poor socio-economic conditions generally. And in spite of Tsawwassen being on the Lower Mainland, we suffered similar rates until we were able to take control of our own community into our own hands. And that takes a lot of discussion; that takes a lot of questioning; that takes a lot of analysis and communication, and engagement. But it also takes a leap of faith of being able to move forward as a community and trusting that we can do better than others have done for us in the past century or so.

Stewart

I have to admit I thought Tsawwassen First Nation was much larger in population; you’ve really sorted me out on that point. And it, it’s a reminder that maybe the issues between rural and urban First Nations in Canada are not necessarily as disparate as one might assume. So I appreciate that insight. You mentioned the rates, I think you mean rates, indicators, of social well-being. What are some of the key indicators that you would use to measure whether First Nations, a First Nation, is doing well or struggling?

Kim

It’s typical census stuff to some degree, income, health levels, incarceration rates, addiction rates, suicide rates. All those Frst Nations are at the bottom of conditions from all of those aspects, low education rates, etcetera, all across the country. So seeing an improvement in those is important, but it’s okay to measure where you’re at. But the question is, what can you do to move the dial on those things? And I’ve spent a lot of my career focused on that. I think education is critically important for individuals to have sustainable lives, and have sustainable families. So in my leadership, I always focused on that as just a strong component. But it’s hard to get to school if you’re hungry, and have all those poverty issues that we all know about. So what kind of strategies can we think about that will uplift communities? And, to me, thinking about things like infrastructure builds in communities.  I’m on the board of the Infrastructure Bank of Canada, and I’m pleased that they’ve really ramped up their efforts for targeting First Nation infrastructure, or Indigenous infrastructure, I should say, across Canada. Things that most Canadians just totally take for granted: their major investments in education and infrastructure, some examples that could totally lift the quality of life of Indigenous people. And so those are some things going forward that that I think about. Of course, you have to pay for these things. Economic development, has been for Tsawwassen’s case, I can speak for our community, we knew the federal government would never meet our needs, they never have. So taking control into our own hands, to be able to do economic development is a means to an end. And that end is investing in our people. We’ve invested over $150 million of our own funds into infrastructure.

Stewart

Those funds are from your treaty settlement?

Kim

They’re from our economic development proceeds.

Stewart

So this is income you’ve earned through these endeavours that you’ve sparked.

Kim

I think we only had about a $10-million settlement for a treaty, we went land-heavy instead of cash-heavy, and turning that into a sustainable funding base for our new government that is really looking to try to overcome the negative impacts of colonization, and that multi-generational trauma that our community has faced and putting resources into wellness and education for our people. We have to make our own money to do that.

Stewart

Now, something you said a moment ago, I just want to go back to: The federal government doesn’t give your First Nation a whole bunch of money. Do you think that many Canadians go through life with the assumption that First Nations are somehow just gifted with unlimited money from Ottawa and that that’s how things work?

Kim

That’s one of the biggest stereotypes in Canada. And to be clear, in some communities they have limited ability to contribute; they have limited own-source revenues to contribute, and they live in abject poverty. The history of Canada is one of colonization where First Nations were pretty much taken out at the knee, and then blamed for not being able to sustain themselves with the tiny reserves they were herded onto and resources systematically taken away, including access to economic opportunities, and participation in the mainstream economy. This undermining has happened for well over a century and then people are surprised about the current situation. And it’s not just a First Nation challenge. It’s one for all Canadians to be concerned about, to overcome the poverty and overcome the inequities. And there are plenty of reasonable leaders, who have ways forward that want to do that, that need to be supported, in my opinion.

Stewart

Today on Leadership Showcase of the First Nations LNG Alliance, I’m talking with Kim Baird, one of the most accomplished Indigenous persons in Canada when it comes to economic reconciliation. She is currently chancellor of Kwantlen University. We’ve been talking here about the process that her first nation, Tsawwassen First Nation in the Vancouver area, proceeded to having its treaty in effect in 2009. And what the impact has been: It has created wealth for local members. It has created jobs. it has created all kinds of benefits beyond its own community. It’s an extraordinary example. And Kim, I’m so pleased that you are the first guest in our podcast series. So thanks for being here.

Kim

It’s great. And I’ve always liked working with Karen Ogen, the CEO of the Alliance, because she has a passion for her people and wanting to improve their quality of life. So we see eye to eye on the need to develop people within First Nation communities, so that they can have sustainable lives. So she’s great fun to work with.

Stewart

And having the First Nations LNG (or Liquefied Natural Gas) Alliance on the scene seems to bring voices that were missing, that seemed to be more about industry, governments, the senior levels of government federal, provincial. We were hearing a lot from environmental advocates about different parts of the issue. And it was almost a breath of fresh air when the First Nations LNG Alliance came along with something to say. So what is your mission? What do you advocate for and for whom do you advocate?

Kim

The Alliance is a collective of First Nations that have signed LNG agreements and are in support of the LNG industry, if it’s done environmentally responsibly, and in a way where they can participate in it. So Karen was one of the first chiefs at the time that had reached an agreement with government in relation to the CGL pipeline going through her community, and was pretty much cyber-bullied on social media to the point where she was extremely despondent because in her goals as chief, she saw this as one of the rare opportunities her community would have to contribute to issues around poverty, employment opportunities, construction and procurement opportunities. And with her social-work background, she did want to do nothing more than ensure that the project was handled environmentally responsibly, and to ensure that the members of her community could benefit from the project, and to ensure that the impacts for were mitigated as much as possible. So she figured out pretty quickly that she wasn’t the only leader in the same boat, and that there were several First Nations going through the exact same thing, feeling very isolated, with a bunch of external opinions about what they should or shouldn’t be doing. So they decided to work together. And so I’ve been advising them and helping them be able to work together to tell their stories of why they support the industry and the impacts within their community, and to advocate for what they need to advocate for to continue to support the industry in their territories. So that’s in a nutshell the story of the formation and it’s been great because there’s been a lot of strong women leaders involved as well. The chair is Chief Crystal Smith, Karen is the CEO. And they’re really working hard to improve their communities. And it’s pretty stressful, to try and engage in projects that are controversial. But at the end of the day, they’re doing what they feel is best for their communities. And I’m happy to help them.

Stewart

I just want to provide a little more information for someone who’s listening, who maybe doesn’t have all the background on what the LNG project that you’re referring to is about. Right now, there’s a gas pipeline that’s being built across northern British Columbia from the northeast, where the natural-gas fields, are to the coast where there’s in construction right now a liquefaction plant that basically freezes the gas, so it has a smaller volume, and then can be literally poured onto ships. And then those ships bring that gas to markets in Asia, especially where they’re trying to green their economy by having a cleaner fuel and natural gas is a cleaner fuel option for those countries such as Japan, and Korea. And for Canada, it creates all kinds of benefits because it gets the proper world global price for that gas when you do this; and right now, we don’t get that. So we’re monetizing the non-renewable asset so that there are greater benefits. And it’s only through the First Nations that are participants in this that Canada is able to enjoy these benefits, which I think is why what you’re doing, and Karen, is so very, very important to the future, not just of Canadian prosperity, Indigenous reconciliation, but also global climate goals. I mean, what do you think the current state of understanding of the public in Canada is about that sort of matrix of issues?

Kim

The Alliance is kind of in the middle of a bunch of issues Canada’s facing right now and that’s about the energy transition, talking about going to a net-zero-carbon future. What is the role of fossil fuels in the transition? It’s not going to stop overnight. What is the role of LNG on the cleaner end of those fuels, in relation to making a difference on the world stage, between that and reconciliation? I think those are two of Canada’s top issues right now, in relation to climate change. And I think that there are very few safe spaces to discuss either of these topics; people are quite polarized on the issue. I think it’s important that we do think about what the transition will be going forward ,in a realistic way. And think about First Nation involvement in all of that, whether it’s renewable energy in the future, or the strategies involved in the critical minerals that will be needed for green energy. First Nations need to be central in relation to the extraction of those minerals, and onto the sale of them. I also think that industry in Canada is starting to partner with First Nations, which solves a lot of issues. It helps lift First Nations out of poverty, it also provides better certainty, legally, for projects proceeding through the regulatory path. And it’s just a good thing to do. We’re at a rapid time of change and evolution in regards to both of these issues in Canada. And it seems like the Alliance is kind of right dab in the middle of some of those issues. And I would say that the public is kind of unaware the path forward isn’t very clear, and requires a lot more leadership and discussion. And I think the current shaming people for their views within this country doesn’t lead to constructive solutions. And that could be whatever political spectrum you want to look at. I really do think we need to think about this as an important and critical issue of our time that really needs some careful deliberation that everyone can participate in, and not just in entrenched positional organizations. I think the way forward is going to have to be through much more information and dialogue.

Stewart

In recent times, we’ve seen some major legislative moves in British Columbia. Bill 41 DRIPA, the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, that was passed into law in 2019, was a forerunner; Canada later federally passed a similar law and other countries may follow the example set by Canada. Do you feel that Canada has set itself by doing this on a course, and British Columbia has set itself on a course, to do the things that are needed to accomplish the kind of things you’ve just been talking about?

Kim

I think this legislation is late in the game, and that projects are proceeding already conformed with those principles. I see it as a standard, a minimum standard, that everyone has to live with to respect Indigenous rights. And I really don’t think people should fear human rights in relation to these issues. There are tons of projects moving forward with Indigenous consent and participation, and I think we’ll see more and more of that. And I really do think that’s the way of the future. Some projects are, or already have been, implementing these principles for some time, and some companies. I think it’s good that it kind of sets the minimum standard and sets the sort of playing field for everyone involved to know what they’ll have to do to ensure minimum standards of Indigenous rights are respected in Canada. It’s kind of sad that it requires legislation. But sometimes you need more blunt instruments to, to make things happen. And I think that there are aspects of it that will still continue to wind its way through the courts, whether it’s the issue of consent versus veto, and all those things. I think that’s just something we have to be aware of and expect in Canada, in relation to the evolving nature of Indigenous rights.

Stewart

In British Columbia, we’ve seen a new ministry announced that it’s going to manage natural resources through consultation, collaboration, and co-management with First Nations. That sounds like a big step. What do you think we should look for? And how will this generally go towards the success that everyone is hoping for in these relationships?

Kim

I think capacity is my hugest concern with any of this. What’s the expression, ‘Be careful what you ask for,’ because what happens if you actually get it? I hope that there’s some deep thinking about how this can happen in a way that is effective. And that that’s from all levels, First Nation and provincial government, the adequate capacity to not set things up for failure; and aligned expectations for this to work. It’s going to take a lot more discussion about what those expectations are, and how people are going to work together. And I’m glad it’s finally happening. But I don’t think we have a silver bullet for solving some of these longer-term reconciliation issues. It’s not something that can happen overnight, because of all the issues I talked about earlier. So it’s good that we’re kind of setting the table, so to speak; but there’s sure a lot of work ahead of us still in this province.

Stewart

LNG, again, provides an example of this. Take the average-person media consumer in Canada; say they’re outside British Columbia, especially if they had a thought about the status of indigenous support for the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia. What do you think their  impression would be right now, based on them being consumers of the mass media?

Kim

Well, it depends. Mainstream media has a formula of how they cover issues, and I’m not a fan of it. They have point and counterpoint. I think that really complex issues have been over-simplified. I’m thinking that it’s kind of exciting, on the one hand, that the public has been exposed to some of these complexities; but it’s unfortunate that reconciliation has not occurred to answer some of these questions about jurisdiction and the hereditary versus the elected chiefs and all those sorts of things; which I view as very much internal to the Wet’suwet’en (Nation). I think this is a perfect example of why waiting so long to resolve these issues is really hampering progress in Canada, and that a lot of focus and attention on investment in these reconciliation paths, negotiations for reconciliation agreements, or treaties,  or whatever paths First Nations want to take in relation to aligning their internal interests and figuring out how they’re going to work with the Crown. That needs to happen at a massive scale to really provide the certainty everyone’s looking for, in my opinion, at least.

Stewart

To the listener, I would say we’re hearing the voice of extraordinary experience, wisdom and courage here from Kim Baird, who is an advisor to the First Nations LNG Alliance; a voice where each word you’ve heard is chosen carefully. And I would encourage anyone to think carefully about what we’re hearing about the path forward here, because we’re at a time of extraordinary conflict and confusion.

In particular, you mentioned for the first time in our interview the Wet’suwet’en Territory. There’s a particular issue there  for the remainder of our time. May I ask you to help others understand this issue of who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en Nation? You’ve mentioned, a founder of the First Nations LNG Alliance, that’s Karen Ogen, she was chief of the Wet’suwet’en nation, that’s one of the nations that make up the greater Wet’suwet’en people. And we have seen 20 First Nations that support the Coastal Gaslink pipeline that cuts across many Indigenous territories, including the Wet’suwet’en territory. I’d like to ask this question: How do we resolve the issue of who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en nation, a small group of people numbering perhaps 3,000 individuals in a number of clans and areas, or bands that have got local government powers? Who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en Nation?  Kim Baird, can I ask you that?

Kim

I think both the hereditary system and the elected system speak for Wet’suwet’en people. They both have legal legitimacy and political legitimacy, with its own people participating in both structures. The Delgamuukw (court) decision confirmed that the hereditary chiefs had a certain number of rights. The fact that both systems aren’t working together is an issue, as far as no one knows who are the (official) speakers? And they are certainly not united. And nobody’s united on the on the issues of pipelines, in the country, let alone within small communities. That’s kind of to be expected, I think. This just illustrates the challenge of the way going forward for reconciliation in Canada, the view of traditional systems interrupted by colonization, and what’s the way to go forward? Some communities have figured that out, and others haven’t, because it’s a huge challenge to try and do that internal reconciliation that I talked about. I’m the type of leader that always believed the spokespeople are the people themselves. And engagement and participation in grassroots discussions were the key to Tsawwassen’s success. Really, I was driven by the mandate my community gave me and not the reverse. So my personal leadership style is: I believe that it’s ultimately the people that are, that have, the voice and need to be heard. And that needs to be translated into leadership actions. None of it’s easy. It’s an art, not a science, that’s for sure. But I hope that over time, those communities trying to find a way forward can do that work to ensure that they aren’t having struggles of competing (governance) systems, for example.

Stewart

Kim Baird, thanks so much for coming on to the Leadership Showcase podcast today. We’re here to bring voices and views about British Columbia First Nations opportunities in the global era, brought to you by the First Nations LNG Alliance. I’m your host, Stewart Muir. Kim, thanks so much for coming on today.

Kim

Nice to chat, Stewart.

(Posted here 16 March 2022)

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